“Alien Abduction” is a found footage film and horror movie directed by Matty Beckerman and written by Robert Lewis. The film follows the Morris family on a camping trip to Brown Mountain when they witness unearthly lights in the sky and encounter an alien threat during the infamous Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon in North Carolina.
Alien Abduction is Matty Beckerman’s directorial debut and Robert Lewis’s only writing credit. Despite the duo’s lack of feature film experience, Beckerman and Lewis managed to create what is considered by many as one of the best alien siege found footage films ever made.
In the pantheon of found footage films, Alien Abduction is novel in many ways and is responsible for introducing new filming reasons and cinematic and audio techniques to the genre. Several found footage films released subsequent to Alien Abduction borrow and expand upon the creativity introduced in Alien Abduction. Blumhouse’s Area 51 (2015) contains a scene eerily similar to the “falling camera” scenario played out in the opening and closing of Alien Abduction. Altar (2016) uses the same primary filming reason employed in Alien Abduction, where the protagonist is afflicted with Autism and uses filming as a coping mechanism.
Alien Abduction starts with a cold open of footage shot within an alien spacecraft. Someone (or something) traverses the cavernous ship with the video camera in tow, revealing blurred images and horrific sounds of procedures performed on human abductees, the subjects of gruesome experimentation. All the while the ominous background hum of alien machinery resonates throughout the ship. In the final scene of the opening, the video camera is ejected out of what appears to be a waste shoot. The video camera falls from a low earth orbit in a violent death spin into the atmosphere, crashing on the ground below—a scene that is considered one of the defining moments in found footage film history.
From here, the film presents the on-screen message, “Project Blue Book, Case #4499—October 10, 2011: The Brown Mountain Abductions. 27 people went missing after hundreds of eyewitnesses claim to have seen the [Brown Mountain] lights. The camcorder of autistic 11-year-old Riley Morris was recovered in a nearby field.”
Next, archival news footage of the Brown Mountain Lights is played along with interviews of eyewitnesses and experts. Alien Abduction continues with the recovered footage shot by autistic child Riley Morris. Is this footage a work of pure fiction or is it based on a dark cold reality hidden from the general public until now? You decide.
The Brown Mountain Lights Phenomenon
While Alien Abduction is most assuredly a work of fiction, the film is based on the Brown Mountain Lights, which are very much real. The Brown Mountain Lights are a series of unexplained lights frequently reported to appear in the sky near Brown Mountain in North Carolina. Reports of the strange phenomenon date back to the early nineteen hundreds. The history of sightings is so pervasive that the United States Geological Survey conducted an investigation to determine the root cause of the Brown Mountain Lights.
Many people assert that the Brown Mountain Lights are due to alien activity in the North Carolina region, while others believe the phenomenon has a more grounded explanation. One fact is for certain, Alien Abduction is a film that sparks the imagination as offers one possible cause for the mysterious lights.
Found Footage Cinematography
The cinematography used throughout Alien Abduction is exceptional. The film is primarily shot from the point of view (POV) of the main protagonist, Riley, who holds the video camera for most of the story. Riley is afflicted with autism, and this condition impacts the cinematography in very specific ways.
One symptom of autism is an unusual preoccupation with specific objects. Riley is distracted by insects and often stops what he is doing to film their physicality and behavior in extreme detail. He also has a propensity for focusing on the details of his surroundings, filming things that are new to him or seem out of place. Alien Abduction offers a rare glimpse into the mind of someone afflicted with autism through the lens of Riley’s video camera. The footage shot using this unique POV has a greater sense of purpose and meaning than usually encountered in found footage films.
The defining cinematic moment in Alien Abduction is the creatively shot scene where the protagonist’s video camera is ejected from what is presumably an alien spacecraft in low Earth orbit. This scene is not considered a spoiler as it takes place in the first few minutes of the film. Riley’s video camera falls from low Earth orbit into the atmosphere in a violent spin before crashing in a grassy field. To achieve this effect, director Matty Beckerman tethered a GoPro camera to a weather balloon. The footage used in Alien Abduction was the film crew’s third take, as the first two weather balloons were lost in the wilderness and never recovered. As mentioned earlier, the alien-themed film found footage film Area 51 (2015) released only a year after Alien Abduction contains an almost identical scene, suggesting that Blumhouse borrowed the concept.
Another beautifully filmed sequence takes place when the protagonists find themselves in a dangerous predicament while traversing a tunnel on foot. Director Matty Beckerman expertly composes the scene using a combination of visual and audio editing and great acting to portray a truly terrifying sequence of events. Whenever the group is within proximity of alien activity, Riley’s video camera displays audio and visual glitches coupled with brief video blackouts—when mixed with the foreboding sound of alien technology, these scenes are alarmingly disturbing.
Also of note is the combination of CGI and practical effects. The practical creature designs are only visible for fleeting moments, and even then the effects are partially obscured by video static, which amplifies the terror. Director Matty Beckerman makes great use of light to set the tone for alien activity scenes, often using a blinding blue light washing through windows and the slats between wall boards.
The strength of the filming reason often determines how easily viewers are lulled into believing (even if just for a moment) that the footage playing out is actually real. Director Matty Beckerman uses what is still among the most novel and creative filming reasons ever to grace a found footage film.
The main protagonist, Riley, is afflicted with autism and must film everything as a coping mechanism for his condition. This compulsion to film everything works brilliantly even in the face of danger. Riley’s natural stress reaction is to continue filming rather than drop his video camera and flee as most people would do. Maty Beckerman is cited as having gleaned the ideaa from a psychologist whose autistic patient had a compulsion to film everything. Using this filming reason as a foundation, the existence of all of the footage that follows flows naturally and without question.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity is a measure of how closely a film approximates actual found footage. Alien Abduction does a very good job at maintaining its found footage conceit but is not perfect.
While the cinematography in Alien Abduction is very realistic for found footage film, the audio is too clean, particularly dialog spoken during outdoor scenes. Based on the audio quality, the primary cast appears to be wearing personal microphones rather than relying on the video camera onboard microphones. While personal microphones capture cleaner dialog, the actors’ voices do not sound natural for audio captured with a handheld video camera. A more realistic result is achievable using forward and rear-facing microphones attached to the video camera to amplify the dialog during outdoor scenes. This technique enables the actors’ voices to naturally strengthen and weaken as they move towards and away from the video camera.
A second sticking point related to the audio in Alien Abduction is the implausibility of the very loud insect noises captured by Riley’s video camera during the course of the film. While this effect creates the intended focus for storytelling, the technique deviates from what a video camera would actually capture. While the found footage purity is very good overall, the audio elements mentioned here may reflect negatively for some viewers.
On the plus side, the audio effects generated from the alien technology are poignant and terrifying, often punctuating key moments throughout the film.
Another area Alien Abduction excels at that is not often addressed in other found footage films is the video camera battery life. The film makes a point of displaying the battery life indicator decreasing throughout the film. At one point in the latter part of the movie, Riley plugs the video camera into an electrical outlet to recharge, justifying the battery power required to last through to the end of the movie.
At the film’s core, Alien Abduction is presented as a mockumentary. The film starts with a cold open displaying found footage shot from within an alien spacecraft, followed by interviews of Brown Mountain Lights eyewitnesses and experts, and culminating in the found footage recovered from Riley’s camera. The film also contains background music which is for the most part limited to the non-found footage scenes.
The acting in Alien Abduction is exceptional. Riley Polanski wonderfully portrays the autistic lead, Riley Morris. True to form of someone afflicted with high-functioning autism, Riley Polanski plays an emotionally detached child who engages the world from an analytical perspective. Speaking to the camera, he references his family using the same detached and sterile language used to describe the insects he carefully studies throughout the film. In the face of danger, his character continues filming without exhibiting the emotional highs and lows that one would expect if faced with an alien threat and one’s own mortality. Alien Abduction is Riley Polanski’s most recent acting credit. He also acted in a series of shorts and video features leading up to Alien Abduction.
Jillian Clare is spectacular as Jillian Morris, Riley’s older sister. She looks out for her younger brother, treating him with kid gloves, while at the same time doing what is necessary to protect him when threatened. Jillian Clare comes from a background of television and has a few feature film roles subsequent to Alien Abduction.
Corey Eid does a great job playing Riley’s older brother Corey Morris, a somewhat immature teenager who is forced to assume a paternal role due to circumstances thrust upon his family. Katherine Sigismund performs wonderfully as Riley’s mother, Katie Morris. Peter Holden does a good job as Riley’s father, who becomes increasingly frustrated as he comes to the realization that his family is lost out in the North Carolina wilderness. Consequently, Paul Holden also had roles in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and The Social Network (2010). Rounding out the cast is the good acting of Jeff Bowser as Sean, the backwoods local who helps out the Morris family during the threat of an almost certain death..
Alien Abduction is a twist on the classic alien siege movie. The tone and pacing of the film are akin to M. Knight Shyamalan’s Signs (2002) and the story contains plot elements reminiscent of Fire in the Sky (1993). The found footage genre was first introduced to aliens with Director Dean Alioto’s two classic films UFO Abduction (1989) and Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998). Other popular found footage alien siege films preceding Alien Abduction include Unaware (2010) and the Italian film Report 51 (2013).
Director Matty Beckerman previously lived in North Carolina, and was not only aware of the Brown Mountain Lights but also bore witness to them. These memories inspired Matty Beckerman to create the story for Alien Abduction. In a similar vein to Alien Abduction and the Brown Mountain Lights, the films The Phoenix Incident (2015), The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016), Phoenix Forgotten (2017) are based on the actual 1997 Phoenix Lights.
The plot of Alien Abduction is also laced with bitter irony. Throughout the film (and particularly when faced with danger) Riley is treated as a helpless child due to his autism. In an ironic twist of fate, Riley’s autism affords him a unique sensory awareness of what is actually happening around him, even more so than his family. Riley’s attention to detail enables him, perhaps for the first time in his life, to see the forest through the trees, and it’s the adults who are paralyzed by the alien mayhem they find themselves wrapped in. At many points during the film, Riley voices his concerns about the direness of their situation, subtly offering words of advice as to when it’s time to retreat and where to go—and his words are ignored. The adults are deer caught in headlights, running when they should stay put, and holding their ground when they should be fleeing. This subtext is subtle but present for the observant viewer.
Alien Abduction has a strong and compelling story, a great found footage technique, wonderful acting, and phenomenal practical and CGI effects. Adding to these accolades, the film is a noteworthy contributor to the found footage toolbox of techniques for future found footage film directors. Found footage fans and fans of alien invasion films are sure to enjoy Alien Abduction.